A view of Crescent Lake from Pismire Bluff Overlook in the Raymond Community Forest Preserve Contributed photo

Land trusts have positively impacted my life for many years. Yet, I’ve lacked a clear understanding of the important role they play in Maine and the breadth of benefits they provide. A recent accidental encounter has changed that.

Last fall, while hiking on Pleasant Mountain near Bridgton, I met Jon Evans who was busy on a trail maintenance project. After learning he was Stewardship Manager for Loon Echo Land Trust, a very stimulating conversation about the land trust, its history and relationship with Pleasant Mountain followed. While familiar with Loon Echo as a result of their trailhead information kiosks, I didn’t realize the expanse of their mountain preservation holdings or the extent of the work required to maintain the ten-mile trail network.

In December, I visited Jon at Loon Echo’s headquarters on Depot Street in Bridgton and also met their Executive Director, Matt Markot. What ensued was for me a very informative conversation. The cookies were great, too!

Contrary to what many suspect, us old dogs can still learn new tricks. I now know that Loon Echo conserves numerous properties in the Northern Sebago Lake region that total almost 7,000 acres. Besides preserving the land and maintaining trail systems that I regularly use, they also protect water resources, wildlife habitats, and working farms and forests. Mistakenly assuming that as a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization they didn’t pay real estate taxes, just the opposite is true. They remit them on a significant majority of their properties including a consequential annual tax payment for the Pleasant Mountain lands.

Recently, Jon invited me to join him for a walk on their Raymond Community Forest preserve near Crescent Lake in Raymond. Always interested in exploring new hiking trails, I enthusiastically accepted.

We met at the preserve parking area on the Conesca Road east of Crescent Lake on a pleasant, partly sunny winter day. Noting there were about four miles of trails, Jon asked what interested me. The answer was easy, all of it. An inspection indicated the trail surface was hard-packed snow and ice so micro spikes were the footgear of choice. The trail system is on both sides of the road but access to all begins at a kiosk adjacent to the parking area.

Two trails located on the west side of the road, Grape Expectations and Spiller Homestead Loop, are easy walks ideal for seniors. Both are multi-use trails open to hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, and mountain biking. Hunting is permitted throughout the preserve during the appropriate seasons.

Beginning our outing on the relatively flat 1.1-mile Grape Expectations, numerous mountain bike friendly wooden bridges were encountered in a new growth forest that supports an abundant variety of wildlife. Grape Expectations connects with the 1.1 mile Spiller Homestead Loop, which meanders through the old Spiller farm property where some of the original building foundations were observed.

After crossing Conesca Road, we began ascending 1-mile Pismire Bluff Trail. Trails on the east side of the road are limited to pedestrian traffic. Navigating below the west-facing Pismire Cliffs, Jon described the extensive complicated trail work required to construct a path that facilitated hiking while minimizing environmental impact.

Reaching the junction with Highlands Loop, we dropped to Pismire Bluff Overlook. The precipice offered a phenomenal view of Crescent Lake and Rattlesnake Mountain beyond. Mounts Washington and Adams were visible in the distance. The inept cameraman, that would be me, bungled a photo of Mount Washington. Practice doesn’t always make perfect. We finished our trek completing the .7 mile Highland Loop and then backtracking on Pismire Bluff Trail. After crossing Conesca Road, a short segment of Spiller Homestead Loop led to the parking area.

Raymond Community Forest is an excellent example of how Loon Echo Land Trust efforts have expanded recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts while protecting 356 acres for wildlife habitation. Simultaneously, their accomplishment helps maintain the rural character of the region. A mere five years ago, the preserve was non-existent. While a handful of hunters occasionally used the lands, a large development was anticipated. Instead, with the contributions of many under the auspices of Loon Echo Land Trust, the property was purchased from Hancock Land Company, who gifted approximately $109,000 in land value. The preserve now benefits the public for perpetuity.

My hike with Jon was thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational. He is the quintessential ambassador for Loon Echo and land trusts in general. Engaged in conversation throughout, we even solved the pressing political problems of our time. To learn more about Loon Echo visit their website at: https://www.loonecholandtrust.org/.

Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at [email protected]

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